In her book THE UNTHINKABLE: WHO SURVIVES WHEN DISASTER STRIKES – AND WHY, Amanda Ripley outlines three stages of response victims go through when he is up in a disaster. I could not help but realize that they have similarities to the five stages of death as formulated by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.
There are important differences, however, and I believe thinking this through before being faced with an emergency can help improve the odds you survive.
The first stage for both is denial.
It's a cliche in fiction, especially thrillers. Someone is faced with an unusual problem or unexpected violence and reacts by thinking it's like a movie, as though they're watching them on the silver screen.
Ripley tells the story of a woman in one tower of the World's Trade Center, and how she denied the seriousness of her situation even as she was going down the stairs.
Her second stage is expulsion. People at the World Trade Center wasted a lot of time standing around discussing what to do.
The third stage is taking action.
My own theory is that many victims also go through the anger and negotiation phases (of the Kubler-Ross model), although Ripley did not focus on it.
The major difference lies in the situation. Kulber-Ross was referring to terminally ill people who really had no medical options for cures.
Many people in emergencies have options to take action.
If they remain in denial, however, their chances are reduced. The woman at the World Trade Center survived mainly because she followed her co-workers down the steps. She also tells of a man who admits that if his co-workers had not decided to go down the stairs, might have remained in his office and died.
One point Ripley made is that many people die from opponents because they do not act. For example, at a large country club fire, people watching a show were notified of the fire, had the exits pointed out to them and told to leave immediately. Most did, but some perished while still sitting in their seats.
I do not know this for a fact, and it's impossible to prove because no writer can interview the Deceased, but I suspect that the dead did not remain in denial – they simply passed into Kulber-Ross's fifth stage of death: acceptance.
However, accepting a medical problem and a fire you can walk away from are two different things.
Ripley goes into a lot of research and studies in her book, and it's well worth reading. And I think that if we get only one thing out of it, that's to prepare ourselves.
A prominent broker with a security head who insisted on running regular, full fire drills, had only a few casualties. Unlike many others worked at the World Trade Center, they knew where the stairs were and how to use them to get out of the building.
But the most important preparation of all is to agree to react as quickly as possible. Know where exceptions are – especially in an airplane. Imagine a potential disaster and see yourself responding quickly and appropriately, so you save yourself and others.
Do not accept what you do not have to. I do not believe Kubler-Ross was advising ill patients to give up, and neither should you.